12 May 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Executive Secretary of Framework Convention on Climate Change


Governments were seriously examining ways to avoid a “regulatory void” in the event that the Kyoto Protocol was allowed to lapse without a new replacement mechanism in place by December 2012, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said at a Headquarters press conference today.


Providing an update on international progress towards the next step in the quest for a long-term solution to climate change, she said Governments’ could and should pick up speed and focus on all fronts.  Beginning with Cancún, she continued, Governments had launched the most comprehensive package ever agreed to help developing nations deal with climate change, and there was a need to build on that in the coming few months.


At that time, they had also agreed on a major collective effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that needed to be implemented, she said.  What they had not done in Cancún was to achieve the greater political certainty needed to raise current emission-reduction ambitions to the point where they would keep global temperature rise to a maximum of 2° Celsius, she said, noting that even that was not sufficient to guarantee the survival of low-lying States.


Ms. Figueres said that last month in Bangkok, Governments had resolved the political issues around their objectives for this year, and next month in Bonn, they would need to get down to achieving concrete progress.  Meanwhile, work on designing new climate institutions had began and needed to be completed for this year’s United Nations Climate Conference, to be held in Durban, South Africa, in December.


She went on to say that Governments had two major tasks before Durban, the first being to agree on ways to strengthen the international conditions that would allow nations to work together in making deeper global emission cuts.  That would entail confronting the open political question over the future of the Kyoto Protocol itself — the only agreement to date that captured binding commitments by industrialized countries.  The second task was designing the new climate institutions that would provide adequate and efficient support to developing countries, she said, adding that they included the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism and establishing the Adaptation Committee.


In the wider world outside the negotiations, there were two encouraging trends, she said.  First, countries, including the biggest economies, were moving forward with new policies to promote low carbon growth, even if they did not always have a climate label attached to those policies.  Secondly, the private sector continued to increase its investment in low-carbon businesses and renewable energy, and they wanted to do more.  In Durban, therefore, Governments would need to take further steps to drive both of those very important trends forward, and faster, she urged.


Responding to a question seeking her reaction to statements attributed to Todd Stern, the United States Government’s lead envoy on climate change, to the effect that United Nations talks to negotiate a binding treaty were based on “unrealistic” expectations that were “not doable”, Ms. Figueres rejected such sentiments, saying that what was not “doable” was failing to address climate change in a timely fashion, at the level it merited, and with the necessary urgency.


“We certainly understand that different countries are in different political moments and that is understandable,” she said.  “But on the whole, what is not doable is to evade the responsibility of addressing climate change as a collection of countries, as a community of nations.”


Asked whether there were any discussions within the Climate Change Convention about a third alternative, like retaining some Kyoto Protocol institutions as a side agreement in the event that Durban failed to produce any agreement on the future of Kyoto, she said the recent Bangkok session had been productive in that regard.  While 2010 had seen the diametrically opposed positions of two groups of countries fail to produce any constructive thinking, this year, countries had started to think a little more “out of the box”.


Additionally, there was now a realization that even if a solution was agreed in Durban, the ratification time needed for it to enter into force was such that it would be very likely to result in a “ratification gap” after December 2012.  As a result of that realization, the other conversation in which countries were already engaged in Bangkok concerned the necessary transitional arrangements that might have to be considered in order avoid falling into a regulatory void.


Governments were already seriously engaged in looking at that issue, which would probably turn out to be the issue attracting the most political attention throughout the remainder of 2011, she said.  Given where the talks were now and the time remaining before Durban, there would be a lot of political commitment to resolving the future of the Kyoto Protocol and its institutions, as well as the systems that it had set up.  There was a lot interest in avoiding any kind of gap or “lingering limbo” after December 2012, she said.


Ms. Figueres confirmed having received letters from both the Russian Federation and Japan, indicating that they would not participate in the second commitment period.  Neither letter was “news”, since both countries had been “very transparent and very open” about their non-participation, and that their positions were widely understood.  Nonetheless, in Bangkok, countries were already looking at ways to move forward with a second commitment period, she said.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record